National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"5.2 COMMUNICATION ISSUES." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.


Implementation of the recommendations in this report will require actions and cooperation by a large number of parties. This chapter provides a brief discussion of two implementation issues that the committee believes will be of interest to Congress:

  1. Timing Issues: Ensuring that high-quality, expert analyses are completed in a timely manner.

  2. Communication Issues: Ensuring that the results of the analyses are communicated to industry so that appropriate and timely mitigating actions can be taken.


The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks forced the nation to begin a reexamination of the vulnerability of its critical infrastructure to high-impact suicide attacks by terrorists. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was no exception. The Commission began a top-to-bottom review of security procedures at commercial nuclear power plants. This review resulted in the issuance of numerous directives to power plant operators to upgrade their security practices. The Commission also began a series of vulnerability analyses of spent fuel storage to terrorist attacks. These analyses are described in Chapters 3 and 4,

More than three years have passed since the September 11, 2001, attacks. Vulnerability analyses of spent fuel pool storage to attacks with large aircraft have been performed by EPRI (Chapter 3), and analyses of vulnerabilities of dry cask storage to large aircraft attacks have been completed by the German organization GRS (Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit, mbH). However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s analyses of spent fuel storage vulnerabilities have not yet been completed, and actions to reduce vulnerabilities, such as those described in Chapter 3, on the basis of these analyses have not yet been taken. Moreover, some important additional analyses remain to be done. The slow pace in completing this work is of concern given the enormous potential consequences as described elsewhere in this report.

The committee does not know the reason for this delay, nor was it asked by Congress for an evaluation. It is important to note that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s analyses are addressing a much broader range of vulnerabilities than just spent fuel storage. The committee nevertheless raises this issue because it appears to be having an impact on the timely completion of critical work and implementation of appropriate mitigative actions for spent fuel storage.


During the course of this study, the committee had the opportunity to interact with representatives of the nuclear power industry to discuss their concerns about safety and

Suggested Citation:"5.2 COMMUNICATION ISSUES." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.

security issues. The committee received numerous comments from industry representatives about the lack of information sharing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the vulnerability analyses described in Chapter 3. These representatives noted that information flow was predominately in one direction: from the industry to the Commission. The Commission was not providing a reciprocal flow of information that could help the industry better understand and take early actions to address identified vulnerabilities.

Restrictions on information sharing by the Commission have resulted in missed opportunities in at least two cases observed by the committee. Analyses of aircraft impacts into power plant structures described in Chapter 3 were being carried out independently by Sandia for the Commission and by EPRI for the nuclear power industry. Because of classification restrictions, EPRI was not provided with information about the Sandia work, including the results of physical tests that would have helped EPRI validate its models. Both Sandia and the industry would have benefited had their analysts been able to talk with each other about their models, assumptions, and results while the analyses were in progress. When the EPRI work was completed the Commission declared it to be safeguards information.1 As a consequence, some of the EPRI analysts who generated the results no longer had access to them, and the results could not be shared widely within industry.

A similar situation exists with respect to the ENTERGY Corp, spent fuel pool separate effects analyses described in Chapter 3. ENTERGY is using similar approaches and models as Sandia but has received little or no guidance from Commission staff about whether the results are realistic or consistent. The ENTERGY analysts told the committee that they would have benefited had they been able to compare and discuss their approaches and results with Sandia analysts. Sandia analysts were prevented from doing so because of classification issues. Sharing of ENTERGY’s results within the company or across industry may be problematical if they are determined to be classified or safeguards information by the Commission.

Several Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff also privately expressed to the committee their frustration at the difficulty in sharing information that they know would be useful to industry. In fact, from the contacts the committee had, there does not appear to be a lack of willingness to share information at the working staff level within the Commission. Rather, it seems to be an issue of getting permission from upper management and addressing the classification restrictions.

Much of the difficulty in sharing this information appears to arise because the information is considered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be safeguards information or in some cases even classified national security information. Industry analysts and decision makers generally do not have the appropriate personal security clearances2 to access this information. The committee learned that the Commission is making efforts to share more of this information with some industry representatives. The industry will be responsible for implementing any changes to spent fuel storage to make it less vulnerable to terrorist attack. Clearly, therefore, the industry needs to understand the results of the


Safeguards information is defined in section 147 of the Atomic Energy Act and in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 10, Part 73.2. See the glossary for a definition. Authority for designation of safeguards resides with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


In fact, a personnel security clearance is not required to access safeguards information. One only needs to be of “good character” and have a “need to know” as determined by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Suggested Citation:"5.2 COMMUNICATION ISSUES." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.
Page 75
Suggested Citation:"5.2 COMMUNICATION ISSUES." National Research Council. 2006. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11263.
Page 76
Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage: Public Report Get This Book
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In response to a request from Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Homeland Security sponsored a National Academies study to assess the safety and security risks of spent nuclear fuel stored in cooling pools and dry casks at commercial nuclear power plants. The information provided in this book examines the risks of terrorist attacks using these materials for a radiological dispersal device. Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel is an unclassified public summary of a more detailed classified book. The book finds that successful terrorist attacks on spent fuel pools, though difficult, are possible. A propagating fire in a pool could release large amounts of radioactive material, but rearranging spent fuel in the pool during storage and providing emergency water spray systems would reduce the likelihood of a propagating fire even under severe damage conditions. The book suggests that additional studies are needed to better understand these risks. Although dry casks have advantages over cooling pools, pools are necessary at all operating nuclear power plants to store at least the recently discharged fuel. The book explains it would be difficult for terrorists to steal enough spent fuel to construct a significant radiological dispersal device.

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